Overview of Dana Stidham
“She was just the kind of daughter people wish they had. And I was lucky enough to have her.”
Dana Lynell Stidham had her entire life ahead of her. She was only 18 and had just graduated from Gravette High School in June 1989. Dana had a big smile and was always happy. Dana was well-liked and didn’t have any enemies. She was close with her parents, Lawrence and Georgia Stidham, and often visited them as she only lived 10 minutes away. Dana and her brother, Larry, were also very close growing up and even lived together during the time of her murder.
Dana was looking forward to starting the next chapter of her life and was considering attending the University of Arkansas for business. She was considering moving back home so she could save money for school.
The Day Dana Vanished.
July 25, 1989, was pretty typical for Dana. She went to her family’s home to do a load of laundry. Her father, Lawrence was at home sick and he asked her to pick up medicine for him. Dana left her parents' house and went to Phillips Food Store around 3 p.m. Dana was last seen wearing a white top with red lettering, red socks, and white tennis shoes.
According to a receipt, Dana checked out at 3:17 p.m. She purchased Alka-Seltzer, dishwashing soap, and sugar. Before leaving, she briefly spoke to an older man, assumed to be a co-worker. This is the last time Dana Stidham is seen alive.
By 4:00 p.m., Georgia returned home from work, yet Dana had still not returned. This was strange because Dana always called if she was going to be late. Her parents assumed she was experiencing car trouble and drove around looking for Dana. There was no sign of Dana or her gray 1984 Dodge Omni. By that evening, her family reports her missing to the Benton County Sheriff’s Office. By 9:43 p.m., a be on the lookout (BOLO) is issued for Dana and her vehicle.
Dana’s car is found around 6:30 a.m. on July 26, 1989, Sergeant Karen Myers was on her way to work and noticed a gray 1984 Dodge Omni. The car was sitting on the southbound shoulder of Highway U.S. 71 opposite Wellington Road. There was a pickup truck behind the car. Sgt Myers was not yet briefed on Dana’s case. Upon learning of Dana’s case, Sgt Myers returned to that location and ran the plates confirming the car belonged to Dana. The pickup truck Sgt Myers saw earlier that day was no longer behind Dana’s car.
Upon investigating the vehicle, authorities found that the left rear tire was flat, the keys were still in the ignition and the driver’s side window was down halfway. The driver’s seat had been adjusted for someone much taller the Dana, suggesting to officials that someone other than Dana drove the car to that location. There was no evidence of a struggle. Dana’s purse was missing and police found a time-stamped receipt for Phillips Food for 3:17 p.m. for dish soap, sugar, and Alka-Selzter. Strangely, Arkansas State Troopers had patrolled that area through midnight and did not notice Dana’s vehicle, suggesting that her car was moved during the early morning hours.
During this same time, police began to question Michael McMillian, a former classmate of Dana’s. He expressed interest in Dana, but she never reciprocated the same feelings. McMillian was considered a suspect because witnesses told police they saw a man matching his description and told detectives he was driving his father’s pickup truck that evening. Not long after, McMillian joined the U.S. Navy and left the state for training.
On August 5, 1989, Dana’s personal belongings were found along Chaucer and Hanover roads. A pet dog found some of the items and carried them home. The owner promptly contacted the police. Search teams were deployed throughout Bella Vista.
On September 16, 1989, just two months after Dana was last seen, Wayne T. Grantham, a local squirrel hunter, discovered her body. Strangely, Grantham waited an entire day before reporting the remains to the police because he did not want the investigation to ruin his hunting day.
The next morning on September 17, 1989, Grantham contacted the Benton County Sheriff’s Office about the remains he found. Grantham would later tell police that regretted that decision and that he should have notified the police when he found the remains. The remains were 90% skeletalized, therefore, there were no obvious signs of trauma, and authorities could not determine if the victim had been sexually assaulted. The skull was found intact, along with most of her jaw. The bones were scattered along a 50 feet stretch along the creek. There was evidence of nick on the left shoulder blade. Authorities recovered several feet of bailing twine with several distinct knots. Duct tape was found on the victim’s clothes, and one of the victim’s bra straps was cut.
On September 21, 1989, the medical examiner announced that the remains found belonged to 18-year-old Dana Stidham. The death is ruled a homicide but the cause of death could not be determined. Dana’s exact date of death remains unknown, a detail that has been hard for the family to grasp.
In October 1989, Dana’s friends and family held a memorial service and later laid her to rest at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. McMillian was unable to attend the funeral because he was out of state.
New Leads In February 1990, law enforcement enlists the help of a hypnotist after a few of the witnesses come forward, but it is clear they were missing details. The results of the hypnotist have not been made public.
In 1996, authorities were able to track down the truck Michael McMillian had been driving that evening. McMillian also participated in a polygraph test where he denied any connection to Dana’s murder but did provide officials with a cryptic statement “sometimes I think I did kill Dana, but I know I didn’t.” They sent the truck to a lab in Texas for testing. Those results were then sent to the Arkansas Crime Laboratory located in Little Rock, Arkansas. Reports indicated that the hair samples obtained closely matched Dana’s. However, a court order was signed to obtain more hair samples from McMillian, however, the hair strands were missing the follicle, preventing a complete match.
Where the case stands today. Despite the circumstantial evidence, the Benton County prosecutor declined to move forward with the case. Since then, Dana’s case has sadly gone cold.
If you have any information regarding the unsolved murder of Dana Lynell Stidham please contact Benton County Sheriff’s Office at (479) 271-1008.